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I watched The Batman (2022) starring Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, and Jeffrey Wright last night on Blu-ray (thank you public library system). It was basically a PG-13 horror film more than a superhero movie.
Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne and Batman were both portrayed as terribly dysfunctional. Wayne himself was a noted recluse who ignores the running of his company even at the urging of Alfred (Andy Serkis). The murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne was twenty years ago and The Batman has been operating in Gotham for two.
The real mystery of the movie is how Batman and Police Lt. Jim Gordon (Wright) managed to get so close, and how Gordon pulls so much clout that he can get Batman to an active crime scene investigation past thirty cops.
Actually, the story begins with the Riddler (Paul Dano) stalking and gruesomely murdering Gotham’s Mayor Mitchell (Rupert Penry-Jones). The more canonical Riddler tended to range from playful to clever, but while this one is good at puzzles, he’s also sitting on a terrific amount of rage. He wears glasses on the outside of his mask and the moment when the audience realizes he’s in the same room as the Mayor is when we see a dim light reflecting off of the lenses. The effect is chilling.
After Mitchell’s death and as Batman and Gordon are leaving the crime scene, Batman sees the Mayor’s young son and of course, his own childhood trauma is summoned. We see no flashbacks of this, but after all of the Batman stories that we’ve been told, we don’t really need to see it again to know.
Batman is fairly clever in that once back outside, he puts his Batman gear in a backpack and rides around on a motorcycle. It’s almost always night or cloudy or raining in Gotham so he blends into the background. There is a “Batmobile” later in the film but it’s almost redundant.
Following a series of clues left by the Riddler, Batman and Gordon discover that the supposedly squeaky clean Mayor was seeing a woman on the side and associating with an underworld figure known as “Penguin” or “Oz” (Colin Farrell who is unrecognizable in the role).
Batman beats his way into the club and while getting no valuable information from Oz, does encounter Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) who seeing the photos of the Mayor with the mystery woman almost certainly knows who she is. When Gordon plugged the thumb drive with the photos into his computer, a program sent copies to every major news agency, so everyone is looking for her.
Batman follows Kyle, finds that she and the mystery woman Annika (Hana Hrzic) seem to be roommates (maybe more, but that part isn’t revealed), and that Kyle has another identity. No one ever calls her “Catwoman,” but she does own a lot of cats and the mask he wears has subtle “cat ears.”
Batman catches her opening the safe of someone very wealthy and liberating Annika’s passport. Eventually, he finds out Annika knows more than she should and the gangsters took her passport to make sure she wouldn’t go anywhere.
Back at Kyle’s place, Annika is missing (and is later found murdered). To find her, Batman fits Kyle with his specialized contact lenses that work like television cameras to go into “the club within the club,” the private part of Penguin’s empire where the real action happens.
It’s here that Batman learns how deep Gotham’s corruption really goes but even this is only the beginning. With a running time of almost three hours, this movie leaves itself plenty of room to casually explore not only the city’s underbelly, but it’s history going back before Bruce was born. Alfred knows the truth but only reveals it to Bruce after being injured in an explosion meant to kill The Batman.
That is the mysterious Riddler’s biggest secret. He knows The Batman is actually Bruce Wayne. But then everyone’s family has its secrets including Selena’s which is connected to Bruce’s.
In the history of Batman movies and comic books, the Dark Knight’s “Rogue’s Gallery” is always meant to reflect Batman in some sense, but this particular Riddler is truly a shadowy reflection of Bruce himself. Both are orphans, both have a shared history, but where one son grew up with billions, the other was raised in poverty in an orphanage.
The Riddler (we never find out his true name, even after he’s captured and interned in Arkham), is never seen robbing banks and he’s made a point of not being wealthy, but he has managed to hire a bunch of henchman to do his dirty work after he’s caught and to carry out his ultimate plan of revenge against the city.
In spite of the fact that its tone is exceptionally different from Batman Begins (2005), there are themes of Alfred as a father figure, Bruce being “the Prince of Gotham,” and the threat of Batman possibly destroying the Wayne legacy.
However, where previous Waynes and Batmen have, on some level, been approachable and even likable, Pattinson’s isn’t. He does manage to elicit a kiss from Selina, but in the end, they belong to two different worlds. Where she has been willing to share her secrets, Batman is always behind his mask. Even as Bruce, he’s still The Batman, vulnerable, damaged, sometimes even deranged, and no one you’d want to hang out with in either guise.
Even Alfred, brilliant in his own right, is understated, almost a muted copy of the Alfreds who came before him. Jim Gordon is probably the most human character in the film, but again, we get no background on him, no family, no sense of who he is besides Batman’s friend.
This isn’t a Batman who would ever join the Justice League, must less found it. His world is too dark and troubled to survive the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, or the Flash. There is no humor, not even unintentionally. There is passion, but it’s ugly or at least troubled. I sincerely hope there’s no sequel, because where do they have left to go?
It was a pretty good story and certainly the darkest version of Batman to have hit the silver screen. For canon lovers, this one breaks the mold, but not necessarily in a bad way. The one thing really missing was hope. Even in the beginning narration, Bruce doesn’t know if he’s making a difference. In the end, what has really changed?
Although there’s no real mid or after credits scene, after the credits have finished, a computer cursor appears with a stylized question mark. Perhaps the last riddle has yet to be told.